Foremost Vimana

Set your sights higher, and higher still.

They emerge from the pod in a cloud of sublimated breath, their eyelashes rimed with ice. Cryosleep stiffens their joints, and when they attempt to stand, their knees buckle.

A massive hand dwarfs their own, pulling them upright. "Time to get going, kid."

They look up, and up, into the weathered face of a giant. "It's Dara, old-timer."

Rohan's stern features split into a smile. In the days to come, they will learn how rare a sight this is.

There are no smiles to go around when drills bore into bone until they taste marrow, and metal latticework replaces the dermis of their flayed-open throat. As the cradle lowers them into the Sidereal, the droning hum of a nonillion nanites fills their ears and drowns their fear. Dara burns, and freezes, and itches inside new skin. Each day is suffering—

"—so tomorrow can live on." Dara's voice, resonant from new cybernetics, rings out as they complete the Cloud Strider's oath.

Simulated applause fills the Hall of Heroes, swelling with the fanfare that follows. Hundreds of mobile platforms pack into the space, and thousands more people watch from the CloudArk. Holo flowers cascade down over the room like confetti, and Poukas dance in the rain of light.

Rohan lifts them up, eye-to-eye with him. Their chest swells with pride—their body metamorphosed into something new, but always their own—and Nimbus takes their first step as a Cloud Strider.